Hello, friends in time, and welcome to a regular feature on Cinema 52 where I put my weekly viewing of Back to the Future on hold and watch another movie featuring time travel for comparison. It may not keep me sane, but it will probably always involve one guy shouting, “This doesn’t make any sense!” And that’s good enough for me.

LOS CRONOCRÍMENES (2007)

Known in the America parts of the world as Timecrimes, Los cronocrímenes is the story of a man named Héctor (Karra Elejalde) just chillin’ out, maxin’, relaxin’ all cool in his backyard when he sees a naked woman in the forest. When he goes to investigate, he’s chased down by a psychopath with a pair of scissors and, desperate for shelter, ducks into a science facility and holes up in the most convenient place that the nerd on duty (writer/director Nacho Vigalondo) can think of: inside the time machine he’s been conducting experiments with. Is the past really the best hiding spot?

THE STORY:
This may well be the most gripping time travel film I’ve watched all year. It’s an intense, darkly comic mystery, and it keeps you guessing all the way to the end. What’s happening? How does time travel work? Can Héctor possibly get out of this? All your questions are answered and tied up with a neat bow… and a card that says, “Hey, you’re an asshole.”

“Who, me?”

Some terrible things happen in this movie. Terrible things. If you like nice, uplifting time travel stories about fixing the past for the better… well, you’ll get remnants of that, but every action taken by a time traveler in the film is shockingly unethical. When characters achieve their happy endings, you can’t help but be sickened by how they got there. That’s some powerful filmmaking.

I wish I could talk at long length about the best parts of this movie, but that really can’t be done without giving you a rundown of everything that happens in it, and that would be an utter shame. So, as I’m about to make two small complaints, please realize that they account for 1% of my comments on this film. The other 99% are nothing but glowing praise. Bravo, Nacho.

“Muchas gracias.”

Alright, complaint uno: character motivation. There are moments when Héctor needs all time travel theories spelled out for him, then his actions suggest he suddenly understands everything one could possibly know about how various timeline rules function. This inconsistency just plain bothered me. You’ll see scenes in which he is very careful not to mess with the past, followed by him flailing his way through time because the story requires it now. Again, I can’t say too much.

Complaint dos: pacing. If you’ve seen a lot of time travel movies, you know the tropes and the formulas. About ten minutes in, you’re going to figure out what’s going on and just watch it unfold. You know certain details will be important later merely because they’re shoved in your face. Just when you’ve told yourself you’re such a genius for figuring out the mystery, OH SNAP, wait, what? Much like I’ve turned this into a compliment halfway through, the movie lulls you into a smug sense of plot predictability, then violently rips the rug out from under you. This jarring turn of events, effective though it may be, still hinges on what seems like it could be a yawner of a time travel film. Stick with it, and you’ll be rewarded. This flick is incredible.

THE ACTING:
This is partially praise for the casting, but Karra Elejalde’s Héctor is so very watchable because he’s such a schlub.

“Should I go inside to fap? Who would see?”

Plenty of science fiction movies have an everyman protagonist, who is usually either the coolest kid in school or a misguided man-child who’s about to learn a lesson. Héctor is… just a guy. That’s it. There is nothing interesting about him or his life. He just flops himself in a chair, sweatpants and all, and does an afternoon’s worth of nothing. Elejalde wisely plays him as an almost entirely blank slate, which helps us project ourselves onto him right before we might regret the decision.

His interactions with Nacho Vigalondo’s unnamed scientist character are compelling due to the ever-changing balance of power between them. Vigalondo cycles through a full range of emotions as he tries his best to save a desperate Héctor (and himself) from the madman in the woods.

“You’re fuckin’ up my day, science guy.”

THE SPECIAL EFFECTS:
The more modern the movie, the more subtle the special effects? In Los cronocrímenes, time travel is achieved via a large, hot-tubbish chamber filled with viscous white liquid. The lid closes, there’s one flash of light, and you’re all done.

If it’s a fellow, let it mellow.

OTHER STUFF:

  • If you’re like me and don’t know any words in Spanish that aren’t dirty, you’ll need subtitles. The DVD contains both English and “English narrative.” Huh? We tried the narrative version first and there were no subtitles at all. Stick with just English. Or watch it on Netflix as Timecrimes.
  • What kind of Vigalondo isn’t yours?

THE “NONE OF THIS MAKES ANY SENSE!” MOMENT:
Completely in line with his character, after Héctor has time travel explained to him with the obligatory Lines Drawn on a Piece of Paper, he just sits there in silent schlubbery.

“…”

FINAL THOUGHTS:
I don’t want to waste words: see this. It’s Twelve Monkeys good. It’s Primer good. It’s science fiction, horror, dark comedy, and gut-punching drama all wrapped up in a pink bandage.

NEXT WEEK:
Dickin’ With Prophecies: A Time Out Subcategorical Special Report or Something

Want more time travel? Head on over to the Time Out archive.